Last night I performed on my friend’s show in the Yoo Hoo Room at Flappers Comedy Club at 9:30pm. That friend was Flip Schultz, and the show was An Intimate Evening with Skippy Greene. I had rushed to make the show from Brea where I was doing a set on another friend’s show at the Brea Improv.
This is about my tenth experience at Flappers in Burbank. They have another club in Claremont, but I have never been there, so I can’t comment on that club. I live in Burbank. Flappers is less than a mile from my apartment. You would think that I would hang out there quite a bit, and perform there often, but I don’t. I’ve performed more times in Indianapolis this year than Burbank.
I’ve been to the club several times for various things. I’m an occasional guest on comedian Darren Carter’s podcast, which is recorded in the green room at this club. I have attended Doug Benson’s podcast recordings with other comics in the club’s main room.
I’ve met the owners of the club a few times, being introduced by other comedians. I was also introduced to Sam Comroe, who is a young comic himself, but also works for the club and books some of the shows. I had emailed the owners a few times about possible work, and got no response. After contacting Sam through Facebook, he booked me on a 10pm Wednesday night college show last year. A comedian friend of mine happened to be on the 8pm show the same night, so I went up to the club early. The series of events that follows is one of my worst experiences with a club ever.
I arrive around 8pm and am told I need to buy a $12 ticket. I explain that I’m a comedian, and am, in fact, booked on the 10pm show. I’m then told I can buy a half-price ticket for the 8pm show. I walk off towards the bar shaking my head at this proposition. I wrote it off as a misunderstanding. At the bar, I ordered a Diet Coke, and was presented with a bill for four dollars. I explained that I was a comic on the 10pm show, and was told it was still four dollars. I reluctantly paid. When I wanted a refill I was told it was two more dollars. I opted for an ice water instead. (I realize that I probably could have wandered back to the green room and got a bottle of water there, but it’s the principal here.)
I then wandered in to the show room to find my friend - without purchasing a ticket - and when I saw how full the show room was, I was really puzzled. There were 12 people in the audience. Why in the world would you deny comics from coming in to the room for free and adding to the crowd? While there are some shows where I have seen the show room full (Doug Benson, etc.), most of the shows I have been to - and these are prime time, weekend shows, have had twenty people or so. Some shows I’ve been to have had less than ten audience members. I’m baffled at the strategy here of making comics pay to sit in the back of the showroom. And I know that sometimes comics don’t have to pay, but the policy seems ambiguous and the staff doesn’t seem to be aware of exactly what the policy is.
Ten o’clock rolls around and the second show starts. Again, there are eight people in the crowd. I look around for Sam Comroe, and he is nowhere to be found. I ask and I’m told he isn’t there that week, and then I ask who is in charge of the show. I talk to other comedians on the show and no one is aware I’m even supposed to be on the show. I pull up the Flappers website on my phone, and show them I’m listed on the show. No answers. I ask person after person, and everyone shrugs and walks off. I leave Flappers frustrated at the complete lack of respect and total indifference I was shown as a comic. I sent a message to Sam on Facebook the next day, but didn’t get much back other than a confirmation that he was, indeed, out of town that night. No apology. No re-booking. Just indifference. Normally, if a promoter or independent show producer did this, I wouldn’t mind. But I do believe Sam (who is perfectly nice, as were Barbara and Dave, the owners) works at the club as well, or is their representative in some capacity. He has some kind of tie to the club or owners, because they promote him a lot, and vice-versa.
Last night, I was performing on Flip’s show, and I decided to eat. I had eaten at Flappers after they first opened, and the food was underwhelming. This time the food was good. I had a burger and some wings, and a Diet Coke. I had a refill on my Diet Coke, so all in all I was charged $6 for soda and full price for the food, and with a tip, my tab was $35. I asked if there were any discounts for performers, and was told that there wasn’t. Awesome.
To contrast, before the show last night, I was at the Brea Improv, which is another beautiful club South of L.A. There I had three beers and a couple Diet Cokes, and was charged nothing. And I got paid. If I wasn’t in such a hurry to get back to Burbank and do a set on Flips show at Flappers, I would have eaten there, and that would have also been free. My waitress was more attentive to me - a comic - with a room of 200 audience members, than my waiter at Flappers who had a room of 6 audience members.
The purpose of this letter isn’t to complain about having to pay for things, or about not getting booked enough. Flappers isn’t going to make or break my career, and I’m sure they aren’t hurting by not having me perform there more. It’s just a venting of frustration over the lack of respect I feel they show comedians in general. Over the past year or so, I’ve heard similar stories from dozens of other comics. They feel unwanted and unwelcome there, and it’s easy to see why. Writing something like this is dangerous. The owners could read it, and simply dismiss me as an angry, bitter comic. I hope they read it and try to understand where I’m coming from. The sentiments expressed in this letter are not only my own.
The Comedy Store and The Improv have become comedian hangouts in L.A. for good reason - comics are always welcome to sit in on shows if there is room. The clubs don’t try to make their rent by charging comics for water or soda. They also don’t charge comics who are performing full price for alcohol or food. And it works. On any given night, you’ll find fifty comics who aren’t performing just hanging out at The Improv bar, or in front of or behind The Comedy Store. And those venues don’t look at it as a crowd of freeloaders, but a community of comics creating a culture - a vibe - that gets audience members in the door because it’s the cool place to be.
I’d love to hang out at Flappers - which is once again less than a mile from my house - with the dozens of other comics that I know live right here in the valley, and drink $3 beers all night. We’d all tweet about it. We’d all Facebook about it. We’d all talk about it on our podcasts. And people would come, because we’d be creating a cool place to hang out - to watch comedy, to perform comedy, or just to catch up with friends. That’s what we do at the Improv, two to three nights a week. But at the Improv I can get two beers and chicken fingers and fries for $11. It doesn’t feel like I’m being raped financially when I spend four hours there for the night. The door guys shake my hand and joke with me, rather than asking me where my ticket is.
I would really like to see a change at this club. I want to be a part of it, but I feel like every time I go there, they make it clear that I’m not needed, wanted, or respected. I understand business. I have an M.B.A. I know that clubs have to make money. But I also know this club cannot be making much right now. It’s clear to me that they understand the value of social marketing through things like Facebook, Twitter and Yelp. But comedians are what is going to make your club thrive. Comedians tweeting and promoting your club, not because they have a show there, but because it’s a cool place to be, watching a show or not. If Flappers spent more time actually being cool, rather than telling everyone how cool they are, they’d have to turn people away every week.
What Flappers needs is an ambassador for the club and the comedians; someone who can not only expertly handle all of the club’s social media and online promotional needs, but also someone who can act as a liaison between the club and the comedian community at large. This person can help in multiple ways. Comics know other comics in ways clubs don’t. We know who is popular right now and why. We know who is funny. We know who works well together, whose styles are similar, and much more. This person could book great, popular local shows and podcasts. This person can help make Flappers a very popular place for comics to hang out, promote, and drop in to do sets. For comics, this person would be a contact person issues, concerns, ideas, and questions - all of the stuff that owners and managers would love to handle, but don’t. (And how could they handle it well? They have a million other things to deal with.)
This club has so much potential to be a real destination for entertainment in the valley. With virtually no competition for live comedy, there is no reason this club shouldn’t have packed shows all week long. All the marquees and free pizzas for Yelp reviews in the world can’t do that. Only genuine, crowd-sourced buzz can. Comics are the ones that make that happen. We are the ones with the fans. We have a lot of power. Sometimes clubs forget that. We want the shows to be full. We want people to buy drinks. We want you to make money. Stay open. Expand. Book us again. We are your partners - not your customers. Use us as your partners to help you make money, rather than looking for every opportunity you can to make money off of us. When clubs make the mistake of treating comics likes customers rather than partners, the chances of either one of us being as successful as we can diminish entirely.